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Dozens Of Residents Evacuated Due To Massive Leetsdale Fire

LEETSDALE (KDKA) -- It was mid-morning and 94-year-old Margaret Kotula was in the midst of the routine she's enjoyed in her home of 80 years on Washington Street in Leetsdale.

"I had had my breakfast and was doing a little bit of house cleaning, because I have a little more energy in the morning to do work," Margaret recounted. "And that's when I heard the sirens and they came knocking on my door."

The police officer at the door was quick to the point with Margaret.

"They said there was chemicals, so we have to evacuate. It didn't shake me up or anything, I just thought if they are here to evacuate we're going to be safe," she said. It's going to be okay."

Kotula knew there was a fire next door at the chemical company, she just didn't realize how big or dangerous it had become.

The police also knocked on her neighbor Veronica's door.

"One policeman came and said you have to evacuate, "she said. "So, I just go my coat and my phone and forgot my keys."

"I heard the helicopters and I looked outside and I seen the smoke," says Amos Cameron. "Very thick smoke."

Then, his phone rang. It was his daughter calling from Maryland; she had seen the fire live on a national cable channel and called to make sure her dad was getting out of there.

"She was worried about me cause I don't walk so good," says Cameron.

A school bus carried the folks from Washington Street to Quaker Valley High School where the Salvation Army was waiting for them with a place to rest and some food.

Michele Frizzell also came to the evacuation center. She knew the situation wasn't good when she stepped out of her home on Washington Street.

"There was a lot of noise and there was the smell of like burning rubber, like garbage, like synthetic burning. I could smell that early this morning."

She had originally left her home, but when she got onto Route 65 and saw how big the fire had become and how close it was to her home. She turned and headed back to the house.

"The police were going up and down the street in a police car using their walkie talkie system trying to get people's attention," she says. "Then, they just started knocking on their doors."

Frizzell was only at the house for 10 minutes, long enough to grab 24 hours in supplies.

At their normal time the students at Quaker Valley headed home, but the evacuees had no choice but to remain in the school's cafeteria.

Kotula said, "I hope I could go back tonight."

Just before 4 p.m., she got her wish. The evacuation order was lifted.

The Washington Street evacuees had gotten to know each other during their shared waiting and neighbor helping neighbor. Those who could drive offered rides to those who had arrived on the bus and minutes later they were on their way home.

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